Digby is the nation's first guide horse. He has been recieving special training from Katy Smith, who runs KL Pony Therapy in North Yorkshire.
Katy has trained Digby from a foal to help the partially sighted in their daily lives and it was hoped that he was to spend his life helping BBC journalist Mohammed Salim Patel, who has a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa which has left him registered blind and who also has a phobia that rules out a guide dog.
However, concerns were raised about Digby’s size after he had an unpredictable growth spurt. He unitially stood at 29 inches and grew to 33 inches.
‘As time went on we were going into supermarkets, offices and it was more of a squeeze. I would be knocking things over on shelves and walking sideways to accommodate both of us and that’s not practical.' said Mr. Patel
'The situation can’t be helped, but this setback isn’t going to hold me back. I hope to still be the UK’s first recipient of a guide horse.
I am determined that guide horses will be introduced to the UK and those that want and can facilitate them are able to.'
Mohammed has now visited the US to test out guide horses which were 30 inches high or under.
The good news for Digby is that his special training will not go to waste, as partially sighted Helena Hird, who works in London, has decided he's not too big for her. - His new duties will include travelling on the Underground and navigating escalators. He can press the button at pedestrian crossings, find the opening in post boxes and lie down on command.
“I’ve grown up around horses, and they’re my default animal, if you like,” said Helena.
“You’ve got to be confident you can read an animal and understand it.
“But above all, they have a lot longer life. If I could have one horse that could see me out, that would be great. Guide dogs work for about five to eight years, and they either retire with you or you have to give it away.
“If I do the maths and work out how many dogs I could be getting through, that’s heartbreaking.”
Katy Smith hopes that one day ‘guide horses’ will be as popular as guide dogs.
“Eventually, it will be on a national scale. Guide horses will have to be individually assessed and accredited,” she said.